PHOTOSHOP YOUR EATING DISORDER: It’s all about faking it till you make it

Photoshop and other editing software can actually help a person deal with body dysmorphia disorder or distorted thoughts about self. Hear me out.

I used to work as a primary therapist at facilities for women with eating disorders. Glossy fashion mags—where celebs are heavily Photoshopped—were considered contraband and taken away if found. This would leave the client annoyed and feeling ashamed for “idolizing the industry influencing her disease” and what not. I understood the good intentions but never fully bought into it. To me, this was such a paradoxical lesson we were teaching. Eating disorder therapists, medical doctors, loved ones, body-shaming vigilantes, and anyone who decides to speak on behalf of women dealing with hating their bodies should support and appreciate all forms.

Some of the women I used to work with did compare themselves to images in the illegal print they’d hide under their beds, but It is natural and healthy to strive to become our best or admire others who appear to have what we want. The part where it gets tricky is when these desires become unrealistic and overcome a person, sabotaging any initial good ideas. That, combined with a predisposed genetic makeup for mental illness, can lead to a deadly eating disorder acting as a poor coping skill. I’m talking about self-hatred combined with any one of the bullshit manifestations that can occur: Anorexia, binge-eating disorder (BED), bulimia, feeding or eating disorders not elsewhere classified (OSFED), body dysmorphic disorder, you pick. They all suck and are devastating when they transform what used to be a person’s innocent aspirations into a full-blown medical disease. These things can happen whether you’re looking at manipulated images of beautiful men and women or not; though it would be a hell of a lot easier treating patients if it were those glossy photos that caused eating disorders.

My sister died of complications from alcoholism and anorexia when her heart gave out May 22, 2002. (You can read more about this here.) I have also had my unfair share of anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, and what-the-hell-would-you-call-this? I’ve weighed anywhere from a gaunt 100 pounds to a plus-size 170 pounds as an adult. I joked with my therapist that I was a fat anorexic and a lazy bulimic because I never got thin enough. I always dismissed my health issues because my eating disorders never landed me in the hospital or seemed as severe as my sister’s or the clients I used to work with. But I was playing Russian roulette, and at the ripe age of 35-something, I am tired. I’m exhausted at weighing myself first thing in the morning, counting every single calorie, over exercising, obsessing about grocery lists and meal plans, berating myself every time my clothes feel too tight, pretending to be OK when I want to hurt myself, feeling so uncomfortable in my body that I want to either shrink and hide or scream at the top of my lungs! I’m humbled when I think of all the things I’ve missed out on because of my eating disorders. But although I’m worn out, I’m not depleted. I’ll never let my messed up interpretations of myself—and what those turn into—prevail.

I’ve recently gained weight and at times it’s almost unbearable. Desperate, impulsive thoughts of needing to do something to compensate for my “lack of willpower” or “disgusting behavior” pulls hard at me to repeat nasty habits. One of my tricks to avoid going there is gratitude. I look at old and recent pics where I look pretty good, if I do say so myself. Blushed-face and wide-eyed, I’ll admit that sometimes I take selfies and filter the F out of them. It’s fun. And it’s still me. I don’t post many of them, but I admire me. Behind that mask, that clouded technological screen, I’m still that little girl who is dreaming of becoming like Marilyn Monroe on a red carpet. And that’s cool; it’s not “buying into my disease” or tricking myself. It teaches me that I can also look in the mirror, with no makeup on and certainly no filters other than dirty glass, and feel the same. It’s a process. But you get there.

My point is that I’d rather wear a filter posted on social media than a fabricated smile in real life. I’ll gladly live my life in a Photoshopped existence and praise other Photoshopped people. I’d much rather do this than beat myself up over every flawed thing that I can find about myself. You be you and I’ll be me. There has always been smoke in the mirrors, every second a person decides on what they want to reveal. It is our cleanest internal filters that are the most beautiful. The ones that allow a person to be who they really are and net all the garbage talk they may be tempted to spew at themselves or others.

Behind every fake smile, Photoshopped image, squeaky-clean demeanor, perfect life, and person you’ve always wanted to be, there is truth. You should focus on your own exterior and love it, nurture it, believe in it, until you can do the same for your inner self. It’s all the same.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Barbie and the fashion industry cause eating disorders no more than the big dreams of little girls and boys wanting to be superheroes and princesses. My sister chose Star Wars over Barbie and look what happened to her! It’s mental health issues and the shit in the middle. It has nothing to do with vanity, striving for perfection, or wanting more out of life. In addition to good professional help (sadly, there’s a lot of bad), fake it till you make it until it’s the negative BS in your head that gets cropped out, and not your chance at living the life you’ve always dreamed of.


image courtesy of Pinterest @Marilyn Monroe

Bulimia and Booze: Dangerous Partners in Crime

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I used to find myself standing alone in my kitchen wondering what’s next the morning after all-night partying. I wanted to keep the party going and would binge and purge. The bingeing was something to keep me excitedly busy and the purging gave me a sense of accomplishment. Occasionally, I’d drink after my eating disorder behaviors to muffle my negative talk for doing them. The shame and guilt I felt made me want to drink. I had a client who said very matter-of-factly, “I binge and purge for a couple of hours, and then ya know, I drink.” I understood what she meant. When I was a therapist, I enjoyed working with the bulimics more than those with other eating disorders. These women were more outgoing and they knew how to have fun. Yet sometimes, that carefree attitude—which was one of the positive attributes they had going for them—led to another addiction. Studies done in community and clinical settings continue to demonstrate that the prevalence of substance use disorders is higher among women with bulimia versus women with other eating disorders. Alcohol abuse or dependency is not the only substance seen co-occurring with bulimia, but because alcohol is legal, accepted by society and is a depressant that calms the central nervous system, the two commonly exist together. And this kind of roller-coaster voyage of seeking mood regulation is depleting.

People use both bulimia and alcohol as maladaptive attempts to self-regulate. Bulimia or alcohol abuse/dependency alone causes severe health issues, but marry these two and a person’s window of opportunity for help significantly decreases. Some bulimics start out drinking to numb the uncomfortable feelings following the eating disorder behavior, while others in recovery return to past behaviors to offset the high calories in alcohol. I haven’t known many alcoholics who later became bulimic. But alcoholism and bulimia are both hard to kick regardless of how the coexistence happens.

Bingeing increases levels of serotonin in the brain, and the purging raises levels of the brain’s feel-good endorphins. Most bulimics will say that bingeing is like a high and purging is a welcoming release; that it feels good. Once a tolerance for this is acquired, something else is needed to feel “good.” Habitual bingeing and purging compromises the body’s chemistry and alters the brain’s reward system. The body sets up an oppositional process to restore itself. This means more of the drug—or behavior—is needed to overcome the body’s efficient corrective processes. I’ve known women who have spent the entire day eating and throwing up; however, in most cases another addiction—such as alcoholism—was adopted. And though alcohol serves to numb or alter the person’s thinking and overcome the corrective process, it does so in a different way than bingeing and purging does. Wrestling moods in this manner perpetuates an obsessive cycle, one that can lead to life-threatening complications like organ damage, electrolyte imbalance, internal bleeding, ketoacidosis, pancreatitis, seizures or death.

I’d be lying if I said I was 100 percent eating disorder free, but I can say that I know the warning signs and how to prevent going as deep into it as I once did. And based on past clients’—and my own—recovery, talking about mindfulness, charting food and locking empty bathroom doors doesn’t work for bulimics who drink. Understanding when to open your mouth does. Speak your truth to champion yourself instead of fostering an alter ego that no longer serves you by bingeing, purging, drinking and repeating.


image courtesy of morguefile.com

The Night My Sister Died


I remember driving up the winding road in Topanga Canyon, California, on my way home from work and feeling kinda blah the evening of May 22, 2002. When I got home, I ate something and went to bed uncharacteristically early between eight and nine. My mom’s voicemail woke me up at 11 p.m.: “Megan, call me as soon as you get this.” My mother’s tone indicated something was wrong, so I called her right back. “She’s gone. We lost her around 11 p.m. (Chicago time).” She explained how my sister had experienced a “pretty bad seizure around nine o’clock” and that afterward she was resting in the recliner. Before my mom went to bed, she checked in one last time on Ashli and thought it was strange that she was sleeping with her mouth open. Realizing my sister wasn’t breathing, she called 911. After talking to my mom, I called my best friend Missy and my boyfriend, who thankfully both picked up. The poor guy I was dating had no idea how ill my sister was, nor did most people who knew her. She was a sensitive, intelligent and beautiful girl. I’m biased, but she was special: guys liked her because she was pretty and cool enough to really get Star Wars or challenge them at video games, girls wanted to be like her, and teachers loved her perfectionism. Her laughter was infectious and she loved being around people and making things special.

Ashli had battled eating disorders since the age of 11. By the time she graduated college in 1994, her drinking and daily bingeing and purging got out of hand. I also think this is when symptoms of bipolar disorder became noticeable. Even when she wasn’t drinking, her behaviors seemed bizarre and it became difficult to know what to expect from her: sweet Ashli or angry/manic Ashli. Even so, she did make it to downtown Chicago for work, but couldn’t handle the pressure of advertising or the big city and moved home. It’s still hard to believe that this small-town homecoming queen died weighing maybe 70 pounds with acute health issues due to anorexia, bulimia, alcoholism and mood disorders. The medical explanation for her death was heart failure, however my family made sure anorexia nervosa was also listed on her death certificate; we wanted her death to count towards the statistics of deaths related to eating disorders.

My doll-like sister in her casket is an image that stays with me, but her funeral is a blur. I flew back from Chicago and returned to work as an executive assistant in Los Angeles after only one week. My tolerance faded for the Swimming with Sharks tantrums that my boss would throw, so I left and eventually obtained my master’s degree in clinical psychology. I worked with dual diagnosis and eating disorders for six years before I left that career to write. I questioned why I wasn’t able to help Ashli. My deflected guilt became reason enough to quit psychology. I’m not good enough and why should I care became an ongoing theme in my life. The last time Ashli spoke to me was about a week prior to her death. I was talking to my dad on the phone when she picked up sobbing, “You’re not a sister to me, you’re selfish and only care about yourself … I’m dying and you don’t care, I hate you, you’re not a sister.” My dad interrupted and told her to get off the phone. I said nothing. I wish I had been there to hug her and tell her how sorry I was that I didn’t understand what she was going through; that I didn’t know how to help her but that I loved her and believed in her. But I didn’t, and the guilt, shame and depression around losing my sister lasted a long time.

I’ve realized that the life of a loved one who dies from unexplainable, unforgiving disease is only “wasted” when you allow your grief to bury your own dreams. I miss my sister every day. I still get angry. But instead of flirting with my own addictions or not caring about anything, I’m trying to fulfill my purpose. My meaning is separate from Ashli’s death, just like her addictions were separate from who she really was. Allowing her death to rob me of happiness is basically saying that alcohol and anorexia had more power than she did. Did those things end up killing her? Yeah, they played a big part, but so did her will and destiny. The important thing, for me, to remember is that I was lucky enough to walk along Ashli’s path for a while. And it’s OK to get sad about what happened, to talk about it and to share it. My sister’s death changed me, but through grieving, I’m gaining the courage and strength to finally be me. Besides, every now and then, I’m pretty sure she’s sitting here right next to me.



Please go here to read my story.

Image courtesy of Morguefile.com